Fredericton — Next stop: back to committee? As the Liberal government prepares to move forward with its controversial omnibus Bill 24, they are stopping to ask the citizens if there are any other clauses or bills that should be dropped. With one onerous change removed from Bill 24 and two other controversial bills sent back to committee already, New Brunswickers are now wondering what will be the next piece of legislation to be thrown under the “omni-bus.”
“Regarding Bill 24, I admit we didn’t think people would read all 78 pages,” said the minister responsible for the Strategic Program Review, Victor Boudreau. “For the other bills, we didn’t realize anyone was even paying attention; usually they don’t. Apparently, there are some real keeners out there that are finding some ‘Easter eggs’ that we hoped they wouldn’t notice, wouldn’t understand, or wouldn’t care about.
“Honestly, I didn’t even read the entire Bill 24 myself, so I’m not exactly sure what else is in there that might piss people off,” confessed Boudreau. “We might as well stop now and see what else we need to ditch before we get beat up even more.”
Bill 24, An Act to Implement Strategic Program Review Initiatives, is a large piece of legislation that is touted as the means for the government to implement the measures from their extensive review of all government programs. The SPR began in January 2015 and culminated in last November’s release of the Choices to Move New Brunswick Forward document, which outlined a series of expenditure reductions and revenue generating opportunities. The report became the foundation of the 2016-17 budget consultations and outlined options like tax increases and toll highways.
Last week, the government acted quickly to dump clauses imposing restrictions on binding arbitration, which were reviled by public sector unions. This back-peddle followed the scrapping of two other contentious bills — Bill 26 and Bill 27 — which might have affected the Inquiries Act and eroded the powers of some independent watchdogs like the Auditor General.
Still, pundits are puzzled about Bill 24 and its ostensible link to the SPR process. “I can’t really find anything in Bill 24 that was in the public Strategic Program Review reports,” said political scientist Malcolm Richardson. “Compared to the SPR reports, Bill 24 is like a humongous non-sequitur. Is there another strategic program review that I don’t know about? I think I would have remembered that. Now that people have accepted the HST hike, do we forget about the rest of it?
“Also, the Liberal Party posted a page on their website so people could [s]end Premier Gallant [their] thanks for withdrawing labour changes? from Bill 24. Really? Thank the government for stopping a fracas that they created in the first place? That’s like someone kicking you in the crotch repeatedly, then expecting you to say ‘thank you’ when they stop because their foot is sore.
“This session is getting more bizarre with each passing day.”